Monthly Archives: August 2011

Illboard: A diabetic artist takes to the streets

Brian Bradley's kitchen is a shrine to illness and art.

Hanging from a hook on the refrigerator are two photographs, glued side by side, of a diabetic girl in the 1920s. In the "before" photograph, the girl's bones protrude violently, sinews connecting one joint to the next. She's been starved — a standard treatment for diabetes before insulin was introduced in 1922. In the "after" photograph, she appears thin but healthy, with shallow mounds of fat clinging to her abdomen, hips and thighs.

Above those pictures are four of Antonin Artaud, a French playwright, actor and director who died in a psychiatric ward in 1948. Artaud believed that pain was necessary for existence and that imagination could be just as real as reality. He's the major philosophical force in Bradley's life. "Curing an illness is a crime," he says, quoting Artaud. For Bradley, illness drives art.

Inside the fridge is a loaf of white bread, milk, packaged sausage, and other foods "with chemicals," as Bradley describes them. In the crisper drawer, bottles of insulin have replaced vegetables. Bradley doesn't care for food, doesn't much care what he eats. In fact, due to the reactions it creates with his type 1 diabetes, food often feels like the enemy. He heats soup from cans in one of his two saucepans; a baking pan is lined with tinfoil and filled with crumbs left by breaded and fried prepared foods.

A sunburst of black paint explodes out of the sink, an accidental result of his artwork. The paint stains the sides of the sink, extending to the wall and both sides of the counters around it. Bradley uses glass panels as palettes, and he makes cleaning them a violent task, scrubbing with the full force of his calloused fingers as water splays out of the faucet.

Bradley is a street artist who works under the name Frank Kwiatkowski. The last name is an homage to his Polish grandmother; Poles have been oppressed throughout history, and he thinks of himself as oppressed because of his disease. And he chose "Frank" because it rhymed with "prank."

"I have made myself into a cartoon," he says.

Read the rest at Westword.